#170 : Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone / Space Firebird 2772

1980… the height of the space opera boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s would enter a new decade. Yamato, Gundam and Galaxy Express 999 would come before and now a familiar name would throw his hat into the ring. Enter the ‘God of Manga’, Osamu Tezuka, and his first presentation of his grand myth, The Phoenix, in a full animated production. A live action film with animated segments would tell a historical account from one of the chapters of The Phoenix in 1978, but this film would be an alternate retelling of the space related chapters and 100% pure anime. Tezuka’s Phoenix anime re-workings are some of the most special anime ever made (personal opinion), but how does Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone fare?

SF_1In the far future, the Earth is in dire trouble. Over polluted, lacking resources and at the point of social collapse we find our beautiful planet at both a major crisis and a crossroads. We begin our filmic journey by following our hero, Godo, as a a test tube baby and witness his process of growing up in isolation. Eventually he is joined by a robot companion, Olga, who helps to raise him. These beginning sequences remind me of silent films, or perhaps the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with dialogue being nonexistent and fluid motion being the only storyteller… as well as the background music. Once Godo reaches full maturity, his place is to become a pilot, but this is short lived since he shows a trait of humanity by not wanting to kill innocent life. Also he has eyes on a girl who is set to wed one of the powerful elite… another no-no. This gets him into serious trouble, which leads to a prison sentence where he meets a stock in trade Tezuka archetype, the large nosed man older man and a fellow who happens to be none other than Blackjack.

SF_2Godo still believes in his mission despite the setbacks, which I have yet to devulge. That is to capture the Phoenix from which the blood can be used to give life back to the dying Earth. Eventually with the help of friends Godo escapes and sets off to find this mysterious bird. When Godo eventually comes into contact with the mythic bird of fire the true essence of the story begins to speak as Godo  learns what all protagonists in any of The Phoenix stories, that life is more precious than anything else and the love between souls is far stronger than any want or need in the name of ignorance, or power. Sacrifice and karma must be weighed in order to achieve a true sense of enlightenment and fulfillment.

SF_3The space opera sci-fi of Phoenix 2772 is well animated, as expected from the likes of Tezuka, who was Chief Director of the project… The BIG Boss! He incorporated techniques seen in his more experimental projects, which makes Phoenix 2772 unique looking amongst the other films of the time, Toward the Terra as an example. Also Tezuka’s character designs harken back to a previous era, though with updated fashion and hairstyles. All in all, a true blockbuster of a film, yet, I have to scratch my head on this portion of the Phoenix mythology. Phoenix 2772 is kind of awkward. A few of the animation sequences take on an almost comedic or fluid quality and a couple of the animal/alien characters seem to be added in for comic relief and juvenile appeal. Mixed with the epic story of finding the Phoenix and understanding true love, Phoenix 2772 can feel a little schizophrenic.

SF_4Phoenix 2772 may be the weakest entry in all of the Phoenix anime I have seen, but it is far from bad, or even average. It has it’s quirks and for some of you it may not be much of a problem, but I hold The Phoenix name very high. The trilogy from later in the decade (Karma, Yamato and Space) is some of the best anime from the 1980s (again my opinion) and I would recommend these first. Even so, at the heart of Phoenix 2772 is a tale of sacrifice, redemption and emotional drama, all qualities that make Tezuka’s Phoenix entries special. This in it’s self makes Phoenix 2772 qualify as a close second to the trilogy and a unique entry into the beginning of the decade of the 1980s.

#169 : Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora

“QUESTION!” Time to dive really deep into this pile of forgotten anime titles. Let’s investigate the bottom of this bin and find something special. Ah ha ha, nice choice. Have you ever heard of an OVA trilogy by the name of Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? “QUESTION!” What happens when you combine a pretty heroine packing a sword and a shield, a goofy transforming sidekick, a handsome, yet cruel villain, space travel, fantasy and a pair magical jewels? You get the plot for the beginnings of an often under appreciated mid-1980s OVA series. OK, I think we have the makings for a good story here… time to watch. Popcorn please!

DDHF_1Let’s meet our beautiful heroine Miss Fandora (Fandora-sama), who so happens to be a bounty hunter by trade. She treks all over the galaxy with her partner Que, who happens to be a shapeshifter. And she always, seems to be short on money after each job. So far this sounds similar to Rumiko Takahashi’s Maris: The Chojo? Now’s the time to diverge. Part of her uniform is the red Jewel of Lupia, which is a prominent part of her crown like headdress. Did she borrow her fashion sense from She-Ra: Princess of Power? Drawing power from this jewel, and using it for the plight of what is good, she takes down each successive criminal using a sword and shield. Also the rays from the jewel bother Que in that he seems to sprout a tail that is quite reptilian. Dear sir, is your true identity that of a a dragon!? After the opening we find she has the eye on a very prized, yet elusive criminal, one Yogu-sogos. His bounty is the highest in the universe, yet his location and even his identity remain a mystery.

DDHF_2Based on a concept by Go Nagai, Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would bear fruit under the production and vision of a little studio by the name of Kaname Production. Kaname is a studio that I love… love!, more like obsessed?… and many of their works are featured here, so why not add one more! Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would be the second warrior maiden heroine brought to us from Kaname in 1985, the other being the Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko. Both have their character and are similar, but they are also very different in terms of story… and budget. Fandora could pass as the budget version of Yohko as Yohko’s OVA looks very cinematic and lush, while Fandora’s OVA could pass more for television standards. Yet this is not a fair comparison, that’s like comparing an apple with an pomegranate. Both offer nutrition and taste delicious, but one is more expensive in terms of cost. Yet, both can satisfy in their own way!

DDHF_3Each successive episode lays the groundwork for the last. The first episode can stand alone as a single entry and I wonder if that was the case in terms of production? We learn the basics of our characters, find out who Yogu-sogos is and end on a cliff hanger. The second episode brings in more character development with the introduction of a tragic couple’s ill fated relationship and a young boy by the name of Sohto/Soto. And yet even more action with Yogu-sogos and this one also ends on a cliff hanger. The third episode shows the resurrection of Fandora and introduces much of her secret back story, and Que’s as well, which leads to the climatic ending! And sorry, no cliffhanger this time round. The pacing is well done and each successful episode builds from the last, showing Fandora, Que and Yogu-sogos as a well rounded trio for our main cast by the end.

DDHF_4Truth be told, this was one Kaname Production title that I had on the back burner for some time and much like anything from that studio, I really like it. Though Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora does not hold a candle to Kaname’s masterpiece, Windaria, it is still a fun action cartoon with a strong protagonist that has those signature eyes associated with Kaname’s female characters. The only thing I scratch my head about is why is it called Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? Fandora is the heroine, a hunter is her job and dimensions are what she and Que warp through to catch crooks… where is the dream part?

#165 : Wicked City

Our world is not what it seems. Beneath the surface of the apparent calm and modernity of our lives resides a more primal force. Do things go bump in the night where a shadow world coexists in parallel with our modern civilization? Indeed it does. While there are peace treaties between both the light and dark worlds, there are rogues who disturb this peace and give a bad name to the darker side of existence. Enter the Black Guard, a secret organization of humans who fight these monster terrorists of the shadow realms. For one Black Guardsman, our protagonist Taki Renzaburō, an assignment with a brand new partner to escort and guard an emissary to an upcoming peace negotiation would change his life forever.

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Wicked City, while loaded with eroticism and violence, is very tasteful and exudes style. As a Madhouse production we see a heavy emphasis on great line work, color, mood and lighting. Adding in the directorial style and character designs of action superstar Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) we gain more to the overall package. While still an action film, Wicked City is so much more, like fine jazz with monsters and the supernatural, occasional nudity/sexual action and Kawajiri’s signature element of cool. If a B grade action movie, a horror film, and a passionate late night romance flick got married under the umbrella of animation we would get Wicked City. And the product would become a first class production… a sum of separates becoming greater than the whole, but still at heart a B-movie.

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Now with all the film-noir esthetic and the action you may think you have the entire plot and structure of this movie. Not quite. One might miss a very important element to Wicked City, though it’s hard not to. This is a genuine love story. A true romance based on bringing together two people destined for each other, yet from completely different backgrounds. “Two different fates, my love paramour, ooze out and away…” (any Cocteau Twins fans?). The bringing together of protagonist Taki with his new partner Maki (how cute, it rhymes) destines many great things for the future of both humanity and the dark world. Ironic that the match maker is an emissary for the human world, Taki and Maki’s assignment, who is one dirty old man who makes Dragon Ball’s Roshi seem tame in comparison. Oh Giuseppe Mayart, you’re such a character. Being part of the Black Guard may not pay much and includes a lot of risk, but you can meet your special someone if you take the right assignment. How’s that for job security?

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While the original Japanese track is quite good, I have a strong love for the English dub. As one of Streamline pictures best recordings in my opinion, Wicked City would be naked without the voice work Greg Snegoff’s adaptation of Taki. Do you remember Golgo 13 in The Professional: Golgo 13, or Scott Bernard from Robotech? Yeah that guy! Taki is my favorite role Greg ever played, almost as if it was tailor made for him. Mike Reynolds as Giuseppe Mayart is hilarious and much of the cast is very familiar if you have seen any other Streamline dubs, or even Robotech, you will hear many familiar tonal resonances from these characters. The debate of dub vs. sub, or older dubs vs newer dubs can be arbitrary. If it floats your boat, it’s the only ship worth sailing on.

WC_4Back in the day many of us in the west thought anime was more mature focused, heavy in action and that old cliche, “Not a cartoon… not kids stuff.” Wicked City was a target example of this trend, yet like the cream in one’s coffee, it rises to a slightly higher standard. Much like Fist of the North Star and Wicked City’s fellow sibling Vampire Hunter D… and I say this because because the original novel based on both Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D are products of author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City presents a story filled with action and mature themes, but also contains substance underneath the facade of being “bad-ass.” My personal favorite of Kawajiri’s work along with his direction on Phoenix: Space Chapter.

#160 : Mobile Police Patlabor (OVA series)

PatOVA_1PATLABOR! Veni Vidi Vici… and then… retirement. Yes there have been reboots of more recent for Patlabor, but in essence like Space Battleship Yamato, or even the Beatles… well maybe the Stone Roses as we are talking the late 1980s here, Patlabor would have it’s time in the sun with the original ‘band line-up‘ in tact for only a minute period of time. A manga, TV series, two films (I am not going to count WXIII as a third) and a follow-up OVA would be born from a little seven episode OVA created by a partnership in 1988. What happens when super talented folks in the anime industry unite for a project? They make a classic. … now then, can we get the old band back together?

patova_2One of the greatest mecha shows that is also a comedy, a drama, a showcase for parody and a cop show all rolled into one nice neat seven episode package. Very tidy and an example of bringing together talented minds to make something original and special. The main creative group behind Patlabor, known as Headgear, consisted of manga artist Masami Yuki, mechanical designer Yutaka Izubuchi, writer Kazunori Itō, character designer Akemi Takada and director Mamoru Oshii. I leave it to you to look up their resumes. The direct to video OVA had proven itself as an affective medium to distribute anime for almost half a decade and the diversity of projects showcased that this was a free for all medium. When Patlabor was released in 1988, it was positioned at a good place and time. Independent and smaller focused projects were abundant and ranged from well done productions to experimental eccentricities to the laughably bad. Yet as fans we love them all! 1988 would kick up the notch with several releases that elevated the OVA into a format that became a viable art form including Patlabor, Gunbuster and the behemoth Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

PatOVA_3Patlabor as a mecha show speaks to those who were fans of giant robot animation as children and still are even as adults… myself included. Watch the opening credits and feel all that enthusiasm from both past and present collide… “nothing’s impossible.” The aspect of going to work and fulfilling a role in society is something many of us understand well and is a main contributor to the storyline of Patlabor. The cast of Special Vehicles Section 2 are not super heroes, nor space pilots, they are your average everyday police officers… who pilot, or work with mechs while solving a case. The whole concept of mecha in Patlabor is perhaps the most extreme portrayal of giant robots as standard everyday equipment. a real “Real Robot”… no pun intended. Yet the mascot like patrol labors, the Ingrams, are not the be all end all of this show.

PatOVA_4The true stars are the cast and what a mixed bag indeed: an aloof, but genius captain; an enthusiastic tomboy who names her Ingram after her dog; a cynical rich kid; a gun crazed lunatic; a nerdy husband, a gentile giant and an American transfer round out the crew of SV2. The dynamics between each personality is what fuels Patlabor. The episodes are a mixed bag of ideas, some of which come out of left field. You get your introductory episode, a bomb defusing episode, a Godzilla inspired episode, a summer camp murder mystery episode and even a two parter that vaguely reminds me of a prototype for the future film Patlabor 2: The Movie. References galore pop up time and again, but in clever and funny ways that makes the comedy of Patlabor pure gold. One example that left me laughing… “What do you think your piloting? Great Mazinger? Dangaioh?”

Who would have thought that this little project would grow into a massive success? And the beauty of it all is that as Patlabor grew it seemed to have gotten better… perhaps because we get hungry for more adventure of the SV2. Traditional mecha anime, piloted robots, by this time had waned in popularity on TV in terms of younger fans except for a few exceptions. All of us seasoned fans, perhaps a little bent on nostalgia, welcomed the initial Patlabor OVA that filled a need to those of us who may have grown and taken on additional roles into society, but are at heart are still enthusiastic fans of animation. We all may have jobs now, even our heroes, but were still at the root of it all the same. Now, time to go to work!

#155 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Space Chapter

YSC_1The distances between stars or planets can be compared to some of the relationships we have with the closest people we see on a daily basis; many times it can be vast and wide. How well do we really know each other by way of how each of us truly feels about each other? A more intriguing thought, what secrets do we conceal, or what elements from our past do we struggle with that haunt us and affect our current relationships? The final production of Madhouse’s adaptations of Osamu Tezuka’s collective Phoenix manga, The Space Chapter, would leave historic Japan behind for the far future and outer space and would deal with these issues of inner space head on. The lessons of karma, duty and fate are yet again front and center stage.

YSC_2Bias here, this is my personal favorite of the three as this is the most psychological, the darkest and the most passionate in terms of relationship dynamics. As an OVA set in the far future, in deep outer space and with highly advanced technology you would think the clothes of science fiction would overtake the content of the the story’s relationship dynamics with spectacle and fantasy. The Space Chapter is a great example of science fiction done very well by integrating both and pushing the intensity even higher. Outer space can be a place where much contemplation can be observed and where isolation, or being alone, can bring out the best and worst in all of us. If Ingmar Bergman borrowed the set from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to make a movie, I think this would be the product… except in this case it is animated and not live action.

YSC_3Four passengers on an interstellar spaceship are suddenly awoken from stasis to realize that the ship they are traveling on has been hit by a meteor, or something similar. In haste they rush to find their fifth comrade who was piloting and watching over the ship had mysteriously died during their sleep. Realizing the damage is beyond repair, they all decide to all abandon ship in separate escape capsules. Now adrift in space alone with limited air and food, the situation becomes one of survival and opening up about their mysterious fifth crew member. Everyone had a different story to tell. He was rumored to be immortal and forever young. He also seemed to be an android from medical examinations. There were even romantic feelings between him and the lone female crew member. His last words left in the ships log struck a note of fear in the others, someone was out to kill him. Who could it be?

YSC_4To add more drama to our story a mysterious fifth capsule appears and catches up with the other four belonging to the fallen mystery man, including signs of a passenger. One by one the original four members would be reduced to two leaving the remaining duo to land on a mysterious planet. From here the story’s mysteries begin to twist even more with the ultimate truths coming out. … and what of our friend the phoenix? She is most definitely here and is a very integral part of the story as she has a very special relationship with our mysterious crew member. The lessons of karma and balance abound with his past as we see the corruption of what was a good innocent man showing a side of evil that we wish did not exist in humanity.

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll), the inclusion of his personal touch is seen throughout the OVA, minus the super heavy action he is often noted for. The stylized character designs add a layer of maturity to Tezuka’s originals and mixed with Madhouse’s signature heavy use of limited color (blue for this OVA) in the capsule scenes and stark lighting add to this production’s intensity. While this may have been the final outing for Phoenix in the 1980s it would not be the last overall (the 13 episode TV series from the early 2000s is great!). Osamu Tezuka’s work is key and essential for all of us who regard ourselves as fans of Japanese animation. This trilogy as a whole (Karma Chapter and Yamato Chapter) is one of the best examples of the output from the 1980s and is finally now a part of the Classic Anime Museum. It has been a long time coming.

#154 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Yamato Chapter

PYC_1We continue our journey through the Phoenix trilogy from the 1980s with the second part, an adaptation of the Yamato Chapter. Debuting as a followup to the previous year’s film Karma Chapter, 1987 would bring the Yamato Chapter as a direct to home video OVA release. The issues of karma, fate and destiny would be told once again in another historic era from Japan’s history. And riding along side for the ride to make sure that order and fate are in good hands is that beautiful bird of fire herself, that avian goddess, the hi no tori, the firebird, the phoenix.

PYC_2From some quick guerilla research, the Yamato Chapter is loosely based (very loosely) on the famous traditional legend of Yamato Takeru, a name not known very well to us in the west. From time to time and from watching various anime, we may come across and hear this very name… Yamato Takeru No Mikoto… Oh lord not Garzey’s Wing. Yet beyond the experiences we have may hearing this name from oddly dubbed projects we come to learn about the Arthurian qualities of this mythological tale and figure and it’s importance to Japan. … reason #1 to watch anime: you subtly learn more about Japanese culture!… How ironic that historically both king Arthur and Yamato Takeru are from very similar eras in time and even though a great distance existed between both heroes in terms of worldly distance, they arrived concurrently in time. Could this be the work of our friend the phoenix? Hmm… Onward now and back to the Yamato Chapter

PYC_3Tezuka’s reimagined version begins with a pastoral scene featuring a traveling youth, Oguna. While walking along one day he gets shot in the arm by the bow of a beautiful young maiden, Kajika. Too bad this was not cupid’s arrow instead, because from the beginning these two had sparks in their eyes; love at first sight defined. This developing relationship will become the cornerstone, the pillar, the axis, from which the entire story centers itself. Star crossed lovers who share a common destiny. While treating Oguna’s wound, Kajika would introduce her brother, Takeru, leading to a moment of hesitation in the eyes of Oguna. This is a familiar name, but why? Soon Oguna begins to enjoy his stay with the rustic Kumaso tribe and begins to have strong feelings about wanting to join their ranks and marry Kajika. Except there is something that is biting at him. Oguna is actually part of the rival Yamato clan and he has a particular vendetta towards Takeru.

PYC_4A tale of love vs. duty, fate vs. freewill and justice vs. mercy, the Yamato Chapter can be likened to a drama where at the beginning we begin in ignorance and slowly as the plot progresses we move into clarity and truth. Each layer slowly reveals itself to twist the plot in a slightly different direction that finally concludes with a slow tragic tale of love, sacrifice and redemption. The Yamato Chapter becomes at the end of the movie a romance that shows the power of humanity, compassion and trust. The legacy that Oguna and Kajika share together at the end shakes the established order and calls for change, yet it must come in the face of martyrdom; such was their fates. Never think one small step, or sacrifice, towards progress and bringing clarity to all of us is too small as we all have our parts to play in this game of life. Only the phoenix knows what and when our roles have been fulfilled, so keep giving it your best attempt.

Adapting Osamu Tezuka’s original manga was again Madhouse. A double combination of high quality presenting a rare gem of mature genius. As I have said before in regards to any of Tezuka’s Phoenix adaptations, I view these anime productions as one of my sources for spiritual pondering. How many times do we turn to a religion, or spiritual philosophy to find answers to the complexities of life? I know I have and still do yet there is ironically an alternate source via Japanese animation from the pen of anime’s ultimate grandfather. To Osamu Tezuka… I greatly thank you for sharing these stories with us and I hope I can be one source of I don’t know how many to continue your legacy. Peace be with you my friend.

#153 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Karma Chapter

PKC_1The Vedas, The Popul Vuh, The Bible, Hesiod’s Theogony… cultures from around the world have created texts and mythologies explaining the sacred within our universe. All point to similar conclusions since universal order, structure and the balance of harmony are at an essence both in terms of our lives as humans, but also, the grand scope of the cosmos itself. Anime has in my opinion an epic collection of stories as well that show the greater answers to questions we often ponder as we live within the cycles of time and nature. Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix saga is considered his magmum opus, his life’s work and perhaps his most important creation. Several adaptations have been created, but a trilogy made in the mid 1980s will be the focus of this session. In particular, the 1986 film of Hi no Tori: Houou-hen/Phoenix: Karma Chapter.

PKC_2Karma can at times be a difficult subject to fully grasp. We often think the actions put out into the universe will come back to us or others as either good or bad depending on the circumstances. We think also that we control the scheduling of karma and the precise payment for any particular action. In truth… not exactly. We think there is equal justice, divine retribution and free will, but what of predestined fate, or unsuspected surprises? The more I delve into Buddhist philosophies and The Law of Attraction, the more I begin to see that self and other, good and bad, fate and free will are interconnected. The more I see that what I do and what happens to me are in essence one and the same. Tezuka’s Phoenix stories are all about these heavy themes, but for the Karma Chapter, this is played out between the lives of two men, who at two points in their lives meet and share a fate that seems predetermined.

PKC_3One man, Akanemaru, is a sculptor who has a passion for finding a legendary bird to grant him immortal life, the Phoenix. He hopes someday to be recognized for his talents to the point that the need for success and status blinds his humanity. The other man named Gao, is a one armed mass killer with no real goal except to enact his rage. He thinks nothing of causing harm, except for one brief instance where he saves the life of a ladybug. One particular victim would eventually change his perceptions and lead Gao to find a way to atone for his sins. He is a man who is trying to redeem his humanity. Twists of fate for both men as they try on the roles that feed lustful power and compassion. Who is the villain here? Neither as this is a story that draws the line to show that as humans we are both good and evil. All who are good have an essence of evil and the most vile and evil individual also has somewhere a heart that is wounded and wanting love.

PKC_4A grand sculpting competition will eventually settle the fates of both of these men for better or worse and watching alongside is that beautiful bird herself, the phoenix. Is she the great deity of the universe, or a messenger for the gods? We may never know, much like most of the magic of what is life and the totality of the universe. More like a peacock than the usual flaming avian many of us are used to in the west, Tezuka’s phoenix exudes an element of grace and beauty not seen in too many characters of the anime world. Her appearances in every adaptation of Tezuka’s mega epic including the other two chapters of this trilogy (Yamato and Space Chapters), the 1980 film Phoenix 2772 and the 2004 Phoenix TV series are paramount towards the plots for each particular chapter. (I recommend them all if you can find them!)

Telling Tezuka’s grand myth was accomplished via the help of Studio Madhouse along with the directing talent of Rintaro. Adding up three heavyweights should yield a high quality product and without question Phoenix: Karma Chapter is just that. On par with the likes of early Studio Ghibli, Tezuka’s original vision would have a proper presentation in the flashy and colorful 1980s. For many of us, anime titles often become favorites of ours, or fun excursions from reality, but how many become spiritual guidance posts? Tezuka created many classic characters, shows and movies, but for me anything that rings of Phoenix is a holy book deserved to be read and studied.